Why Designers Should Learn How To Draw

A designer who can draw well is considered in the creative industry as a Unicorn.

Graphic Design, although a pretty broad term, is usually a path travelled by creatives who thrive digitally and who excel in producing design for print or web. A lot of the time, the process begins on the computer and not often are illustration skills being utilised because of the existence of programs such as Illustrator and Photoshop which, more or less, fill the gaps of pulling ideas together visually. Simply put: the whole job can be done entirely digital.

Digital illustration has bridged the gap between the pen-to-paper illustrator and the on-screen designer. Now illustrators can work digitally but still feel like they are working with traditional tools (their hands), and digital designers can ease into illustration using a familiar format (a screen with shortcuts).

But how do these illustration skills develop?

Using the iPad Pro or Wacom tablet is a seamless experience and sure enough people are learning from scratch using these devices. What you can’t replace however, and I’m sure this discussion may alter depending on AI advances (kind of joking, kind of not), is traditional illustration. I’m talking about the experience of drawing with a real pencil onto actual paper.

Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE my iPad Pro. It’s so convenient to scribble notes down or sketch out rough ideas. It’s incredibly fast and I can shoot through mockups to clients a lot faster.

But.. I already had illustration experience before the iPad existed. Whilst of course there are growing pains with each new application, I want to highlight the significance of learning how to draw the old-school way.

Whichever way you learn, having the ability to communicate ideas quickly and effectively, is going to be a huge bonus to working on conceptual work, such as client briefs, mural designs or visual brainstorming.

Here’s a few reasons why illustration is a killer skill for designers:

  • Non-creatives usually can’t draw, so this is an attractive asset when going for design gigs (employment or freelance).

  • It’s a rare skill. Drawing commands a premium simply because everyone has tried it before and they know how much skill is involved to do it well.

  • You can be more creative when working with your hands, ideas flow naturally when there’s a pencil in your hand!

  • Errors are forgivable in loose sketches, and the process feels more collaborative between the designer and the client.

  • Save time - loosely sketch ideas down before diving in with the detail.

how do i get started learning illustration?

Start basic. Pencil to paper will always exist, techniques can be honed and the marks you make on paper are not simulated, but real.

A few quick ways to get you started:

  1. Join a life drawing class. They cost around $10-$15 and usually you get a glass of wine too! The classes can get pretty full but the timed sketches are a great challenge, and hey, nudity is fun!

  2. Online courses - whilst Youtube is a great free source of content, the sheer volume of options can make it impossible to find what you’re looking for. Learning via a reputable online course will not only save you the time and effort of searching for the perfect art demonstration, but will usually offer much way more value than the free, low-quality videos found on YouTube and the like.

  3. Go to a workshop. Learning in person is super powerful, normally with 1-to-1 guidance, and it’s likely that there are plenty of creators hosting workshops in your local area. Find out if an artist you follow is doing workshops and take a friend along with you! Simply the experience of spending some time working on your artistic skills is time well spent (also, a bonus if they provide wine and snacks!).